Award-winning hi-tech show blends fantasy and reality

The Believers Are But Brothers at Sheffield Crucible Studio Theatre. Photo by Richard Davenport/The Other Richard.
The Believers Are But Brothers at Sheffield Crucible Studio Theatre. Photo by Richard Davenport/The Other Richard.

Nothing is predictable about Javaad Alipoor’s award-winning show The Believers Are But Brothers, writes Alan Payne.

Instead of a programme, the audience is given a note asking them to download WhatsApp onto their smartphones, and be ready to both receive and send messages during the performance.

The Sheffield Theatres brochure alerts us to the subject matter - ‘the smoke and mirrors world of online extremism, anonymity and hate speech’.

The set is dominated by a big screen, with a figure visible behind, a young man tapping away at a laptop. He never speaks, yet his shadowy presence is as eloquent as Javaad Alipoor himself – the author as well as presenter and co-director of this interactive, multi-media, multi-layered piece.

Any nerves are quickly calmed by Javaad Alipoor’s manner. He has one of the qualities of a good teacher – determined to challenge, but making his students

sufficiently relaxed so that they are able to learn.

The show is about the dilemmas faced by young, alienated, mainly but not exclusively Muslim men and how the electronic world of the internet – with its specialised vocabulary of ‘meme culture’, ‘4chan’, ‘alt-right’ and so on – absorbs, distorts and magnifies their resentments and desires. Fantasy and reality blend to form an alternative universe – which has the capacity to impact in the most violent and disturbing ways on ordinary lives.

Javaad Alipoor, Sheffield Theatres’ associate director, is both researcher, story-teller and commentator – drawing us into the histories of three composite characters, and provoking thought about a wide range of issues. The presence of Donald Trump on the screen is particularly relevant in view of his recent presidential visits.

The show offers no simple-minded solutions or moral lessons – it’s an exploration, not a sermon, but one undertaken, honestly and with shafts ofhumour, from a finely judged human perspective.

The Believers Are But Brothers is on at Sheffield’s Crucible Studio Theatre until Saturday, July 21.